Pretend Play Builds Brains and Relationships

Remember creating a “fort” out of blankets in the house or over the clothes line? Maybe it was a can to can string phone?  Pretend Play does great things for your child’s brain! Playing “dress up” or “tea party” or “Pirates” is very important “work” for their developing brains.

What is Pretend Play?

Children learn through imaging and doing. While they play, they test what they have learned from talking with parents and watching the world around them and make it their own– how things work, and what doesn’t.

Playing face to face, with your child– encouraging them to lead and explore, with you as a playmate following and their lead– gives you a window into the way their brain is learning about the world.

Often it involves new uses for common items.  Remember how they can get hours of fun out of empty boxes? Sometimes they prefer the box the toy comes in to the toy itself. Their brains love being creative with bowls, spoons, blankets, wood blocks, puppets, dolls, play figures and dress-up clothes.

How can play boost the brain?

They actually learn to solve problems, coordinate, cooperate, and think flexibly while “building” a post office in the family room, creating a restaurant, clomping around in grown-up shoes, becoming a pirate or teacher of stuffed animals, or building a stick and rock structure outdoors. What fun to exercise their growing imagination as the sandbox becomes a dinosaur bone excavation site!

 

 

Play with your child!

How do I play with my young child to build her brain?

Parent sets up the play environment but lets the child determine the course of play. The parent doesn’t model or drive the interaction, but follows and responds to the child’s choices

Pediatrician, Dr. Dipesh Navsaria says, “Children need to interact with people, not products.” Parent-child interaction is our most effective brain building activity. He suggests scaffolding play. When we resist the urge to tell them what to do, how to play; their brains kick into action. Encourage exploration and laugh together when things don’t turn out as planned. Ask, “What could we try to make that work?” rather than suggesting a solution. When they come up with it themselves-especially after many attempts– they will be justifiably satisfied.

Scaffolding builds on what the child has already figured out—using open-ended questions to move them to the next level. Help him go from “what he knows” to “what else could he know?” Let her lead the play – who says what, and the unfolding story.

Add Music

Music and movement ramp up brain building benefits. Make up songs together about what’s going on. Find ways to sing and dance while picking up toys, bath time, sorting laundry, cooking and anything else making it fun. Call and answer sounds and gestures, move to music by skipping, hopping, galloping, or twirling. There are no limits! Pretending with music, movement and laughter will grow brain connections while you make marvelous memories! Pretend play needs flexible time. Maybe leave the make-shift post office set up for a few days so the play option remains. Concepts they learn for themselves will last, and your relationship will grow. Great investment!

Resources:

Dr. Navsaria – http://www.navsaria.com/home/index.html

Bright Horizons – http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-importance-of-pretend-play-in-child-development/

Pretend Play- http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/creativity-play/importance-pretend-play

 

 

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Sidebar

 

Remember these 5 steps to help build your child’s brain.

 

  1. Look Look into their eyes and follow what they are looking at even before they can talk.

 

  1. Follow   Let them lead play while you follow, responding to their words, sounds, actions and ideas

 

  1. Chat  Talk (or sing) out loud to them about what you are doing together.

 

  1. Take Turns Encourage them to watch and copy you talking, playing or exploring, and you do the same.

 

  1. Stretch Ask “open” questions Build on what your child says by asking “open questions” like “What do you think about that?” “How do you feel about…?”

 

Adapted from downloadable tips from Vroom: Brain Building Basics

http://www.joinvroom.org/sites/default/files/Vroom%20Brain%20Building%20Basics_1.pdf

 

 

 

Teen Brains: What’s Going On Up There?

College girls napping

Parenting teens tests most parents’ determination to give them what they need—not just what they want. We hope to provide practical tips to help you along the way in this most important—but very challenging responsibility. Hang in there!

Our Teens Need:

  • Respectful communication with parents and with other adults
  • Clear and consistent boundaries, consequences and follow through
  • Practice dealing with the consequences of their own choices
  • Opportunities to explore and create their unique identity
  • Enough rest to allow their brains to mature
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Peer friendships
  • Physical activity, preferably in nature
  • To know we love them and believe in them

The View from Here

How do we keep them in clothes? In food? They are growing so fast! The dramatic physical changes we see are only a sign of huge reconstruction going on inside. Think of the tree we see on a hill. It wouldn’t be able to stand tall without a complex and deep network of roots that are underground, out of sight. The same holds true for the brain.

The changes in the teen brain show up as behavior and relationship changes. The kind, respectful child we love may vanish, only to be replaced by someone we struggle to understand. “What have we done? How can this be?”  Not to worry, it’s only a reflection of normal teen development. Stay the course, keep the door open for communication, let them know they are loved, maintain expectations, boundaries, consequences, and hang on for the ride. It will get better—eventually.

Brain Basics

We all come with 100 billion brain cells as original equipment. Each one has up to 10,000 connections, but less than 25% of them are connected at birth. The child’s interpretation of experiences and interaction with parents and caregivers determine which cells actually connect with others.

Brain as an Ice Cream Cone?

David J. Linden, PhD, John Hopkins University neuroscientist compares the three parts of the brain and their assignments to an ice cream cone. (Readers’ Digest article by Kimberly Hiss “The Beautiful Life of Your Brain” Sept 2014, pp 78-79)

  1. At the top of the spine, we find the “bottom scoop” or brainstem. That part of the brain takes care of survival tasks like circulation, breathing, heartbeat, etc.
  2. The “middle scoop” is the midbrain which processes emotions and creates memory. The “amygdala” issues an “all system’s alert” shifting gears from thinking to feeling when it senses danger is near.
  3. The “top scoop” is the cortex. When we think of the brain, we visualize this folded surface. Thinking and specific jobs are assigned to particular places in the cortex. The front part of the cortex, or prefrontal cortex (PFC) provides self-control and what some call “executive function.”

The PFC is the last part of the brain to be fully developed, making parents wonder “What were they thinking?!” Truth is, most teens are working with only part of the equipment they need to carefully consider choices and consequences. They need boundaries, consequences, and communication with parents and other adults to head off their sometimes impulsive behavior.  Kids also need to find their own identity at the same time. No wonder why teens and parents experience conflict.

Building Blocks

Let’s look at the brain as an electrical system with several parts processing information from our senses.

  • First, our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, tongue and nose bring messages from our world into brain cell branches or dendrites.
  • They then pass the electrical message on to the neuron the central part of the Brain Cell.
  • A cable or axon then carries the information on to the next cell. The axon is protected like an electrical cord with a blanket of fat called myelin, made from omega 3 fats from foods we eat. Myelin makes the message “zip” onto the next brain cell much faster than it would without the protective coating. Myelination or wrapping it with this fat layer is the last stage of development. Until that is finished, teen’s thinking often appears—and is—“scattered”. Researchers have determined this process is incomplete until mid-twenties or later. That should clear up some things.
  • Neurotransmitters enter the gap or synapse between dendrites, acting on the impulse before it reaches its next destination. Some speed the message along, while others slow it down.

What’s Going on up There?

Living with a teen can feel a bit like revisiting their “terrible twos”—only with a bigger world and higher stakes. That’s because some of the processes are the same. The brain goes through phases of blossoming—creating huge numbers of new dendrites—and pruning clearing away the connections that haven’t been strengthened through repeated use.  The use-it-or-lose-it principal is at work. The unused and unsaved connections are removed to make room for more complex structures. It’s a good thing!

Vulnerable Brains

Huge changes going on in a teen’s brain make them particularly vulnerable to hazards. Fortunately, athletic organizations have responded to research by ramping up screening and precautions to protect players from concussions.  Alcohol, tobacco and drugs also present significant threats to kids’ developing brains. Research shows that damage to the brain can last a lifetime.

Online resources provide more information:

http://www.drugfree.org/why-do-teens-act-this-way/

http://www.eauclairewi.gov/departments/health-department/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drug-use/start-talking

David Walsh, psychologist and bestselling author of “Why Do They Act That Way?” helps parents struggling with their teens. He told one dad, “When you feel like taking the wind out of his sails, it is a better idea to take your sails out of his wind.”  (Why Do They Act That Way? p 47, Free Press – 2004)

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart! Hang in there—this too shall pass. Just love them.

This is an adaptation of an article written by Sandra Stanton for the Chippewa Falls Teen Brain Summit,  first published in the Chippewa Herald, June 9, 2015